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Piety and Propriety

When Abba Theodore was supping with the brothers, they received the cups with silent reverence, and did not follow the usual custom of receiving the cup with a “Pardon me.” And Abba Theodore said: “The monks have lost their manners and do not say ‘Pardon me.'”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 15.20

Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, was actually a moral philosopher. While his Wealth of Nations is better known today, he actually published another book seventeen years earlier: The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

This book is fascinating and bizarre. It is like no other book on ethics or morality that I’ve read. Indeed, one might even think of it more as a work of moral psychology, or maybe, in a uniquely anthropological and natural-philosophical way, a book of meta-ethics.

He does not begin by delineating a fundamental, normative principle or principles for moral action. Instead, he tries to answer the question: How do we become moral? He wants to be descriptive before being prescriptive. View full article »

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The Fiery Furnace

It is He [Jesus] that raised Himself by the command of the Father in the space of three days, who is the pledge of our resurrection. For says He: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Now He that brought Jonas in the space of three days, alive and unhurt, out of the belly of the whale, and the three children out of the furnace of Babylon, and Daniel out of the mouth of the lions, does not want power to raise us up also.

~ Apostolic Constitution, 5.1.7

Today, Holy Saturday, the Old Testament readings include both the entire book of Jonah and the story of Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (also know by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), who were thrown into a fiery furnace when they refused to worship a statue of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. View full article »

Just a quote for today, Great and Holy Friday. I especially like the fishing metaphor, which also. perhaps, contains an allusion to the Old Testament story of the prophet Jonah and the whale. This is from St. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 3.27:

Since our Lord Jesus Christ was without sin (for He committed no sin, He Who took away the sin of the world, nor was there any deceit found in His mouth) He was not subject to death, since death came into the world through sin. He dies, therefore, because He took on Himself death on our behalf, and He makes Himself an offering to the Father for our sakes. For we had sinned against Him, and it was meet that He should receive the ransom for us, and that we should thus be delivered from the condemnation. God forbid that the blood of the Lord should have been offered to the tyrant. Wherefore death approaches, and swallowing up the body as a bait is transfixed on the hook of divinity, and after tasting of a sinless and life-giving body, perishes, and brings up again all whom of old he swallowed up. For just as darkness disappears on the introduction of light, so is death repulsed before the assault of life, and brings life to all, but death to the destroyer.

Aphorisms and Observations

Over the years of reflecting on the Gospel in the light of ancient Christian spiritual teachings, I’ve stumbled upon a few good aphorisms — pithy maxims — and observations derived from better, wiser aphorisms and observations from better, wiser men and women.

Nevertheless, the point of the blog is not monastic perfection but everyday achievement. On that score, I think my aphorisms are fairly helpful, and I figured one way I could remind myself of them — because I forget them all the time — would be to try to collect them all in one place.

Hence, this post. View full article »

10 Years Orthodox

Now I do not fear God, but I love him: for love casteth out fear.

~ St. Antony

January 11 was the tenth anniversary of my chrismation. Chrismation is typically done at the same time as baptism, but since I had already been baptized, and the Orthodox Church confesses “one baptism” in the Creed and thus does not re-baptize, I was received into the Church by chrismation. View full article »

Mementos

I have known myself snatched away into true compunction of spirit by the death of a brother monk or of a dear friend or relative. Sometimes the memory of my own half-heartedness and carelessness has elevated my soul. No doubt there are countless occasions of this sort, which can rouse the mind, through God’s grace, from its drowsiness and half-heartedness.

~ “First Conference with Abba Isaac,” 26, from the Conferences of Cassian

Tomorrow, it will have been one year since my father died. There is nothing that can make the loss anything other than that—a loss. Death, I believe as a Christian, is unnatural. Part of us all knows deep down that this is not the way things ought to be, even if this is the way things always have been.

But the ascetic tradition of the Church, and the message of the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection, allow us to temper our grief with hope and channel it to virtuous ends. I have tried, when I can, to do that. View full article »

Overtired

Some old men came to see Abba Poemen, and said to him: Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake? The old man said to them: Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

I once visited Romania, and I had the opportunity to stay one night at a Transylvanian monastery. Of course, being me, I gladly accepted their hospitality. The grounds were beautiful—a former Soviet military outpost, actually, by a lake where a town used to be (also made by the Soviets). Dinner was light but satisfying. After dinner, at six o’clock, we attended vespers. At seven o’clock was vigil; it ended at midnight. View full article »

The Delight of Weariness

[O]ur profession too has its own goal and end, for which we undergo all sorts of toils not merely without weariness but actually with delight; on account of which the want of food in fasting is no trial to us, the weariness of our vigils becomes a delight; reading and constant meditation on the Scriptures does not pall upon us; and further incessant toil, and self-denial, and the privation of all things, and the horrors also of this vast desert have no terrors for us.

~ St. Moses the Ethiopian, from the Conferences of St. John Cassian, 1.2

By “our profession,” Abba Moses here refers to monasticism, likely of the eremitic sort. Yet in this case, at least, that doesn’t mean that his teaching only has value for monks and hermits. View full article »

Christmas 2017

He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.

~ St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation, 2.8

Christ is born! Let us glorify him!

Today is Christmas. What a weird event.

I’m not talking about all the shopping and whatnot. That, of course, can be overdone. We actually opened our presents with the kids Christmas Eve this year. This was mainly for practical reasons – we’ll be at church and then my mom’s all day today – but I think it might also help to take some of the focus of the day away from all the stuff, however wonderful it is to give and receive gifts.

No, I’m talking about the birth of Jesus Christ, which we commemorate today. View full article »

Eulogy for My Father

One week ago, and somewhat suddenly, my father passed away. The burial was yesterday, at which I gave a eulogy. I write a lot about the value of memento mori, the remembrance of death, on this blog. It is the one certainty of our futures that we all will one day die. A life lived as if our road did not end there is therefore only fantasy. As a reminder to myself, and in the interest of encouraging a more sober outlook among others, the text of the eulogy follows below: View full article »